- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Coach Larry Robinson was not happy on the eve of his 50th birthday Friday. Not because of the impending milestone but because his New Jersey Devils had played like anything but defending champions in the first three games of the Stanley Cup finals.
The angry Robinson publicly questioned his players' effort and challenged them to show him what kind of a team they really were: the laggard bunch that had been badly outplayed and outscored by Colorado 9-3 or the resilient group that had rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals against Toronto and a 3-1 deficit in last year's conference finals against Philadelphia.
The Devils responded like champions to Robinson's scolding, scoring two goals in the final 12 minutes of Game 4 on Saturday to win 3-2 and then pounding the Avalanche 4-1 in Game 5 on Monday. Now New Jersey can become just the third repeat champion in 13 years with a victory in Game 6 tomorrow at home at Continental Airlines Arena.
"I wish I could put my finger on it," Robinson said of the reason for the turnabout. "It would save me sleepless nights and gray hair."
Robinson's players didn't have any problem pinpointing the man responsible for the reversal of fortune.
"You won't find a guy who has more things to say at the right time," center Bobby Holik told CBS Sportsline. "The most important thing is, he coaches with heart. When you find that out, you play for him like you've never played for anyone else."
The Devils certainly played their hearts out the past two games, holding the usually high-powered Avalanche to a meek 5.8 shots a period and on Monday dealing Colorado its first loss by a more than a goal in this season's playoffs. The favored Avalanche now must try to become the first team since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to recover from a 3-2 deficit.
"We've got to want it more than they do," said Colorado defenseman Greg de Vries.
That's doubtful. Not only can the Devils clinch the title at home tomorrow, they seem to have bonded even tighter minus top center Jason Arnott, who has missed the past five periods after being hit in the face with a puck in the opening period of Game 4. Center Scott Gomez ended his 13-game goal drought to tie the score with less than 12 minutes left in that game in which New Jersey outshot Colorado by a whopping 35-12 and Petr Sykora won it eight minutes later despite the absence of linemate Arnott.
With Arnott out for Game 5, Robinson moved Sergei Nemchinov between the swift duo of Sykora and Patrik Elias and teamed the seldom-used Jim McKenzie with the offensively gifted Gomez and Alexander Mogilny. Naturally, Elias scored, Mogilny ended a career-worst 13-game drought, Sergei Brylin found the net for the first time in 12 games and John Madden registered just his second point in 10 games with a goal.
So now Robinson, a Hall of Fame defenseman who played for six Cup champions in Montreal, can join Scotty Bowman (his former coach), Al Arbour, Glen Sather and the late Fred Shero as the only men to guide teams to two titles since the playoffs expanded beyond two rounds in 1968. That's pretty impressive company for a coach who was 39 games under .500 during his four seasons in Los Angeles and who didn't take over in New Jersey until just eight games remained last season.
Notes There was no change yesterday in Arnott's status for Game 6. The Devils have refused to confirm that Arnott suffered a concussion in Game 4. Arnott, who scored the Cup-clincher in Game 6 last June in Dallas, said his condition hadn't changed.
The news about Colorado's ailing star center wasn't any better. Peter Forsberg was slated to fly with the team to New Jersey today, but Avalanche captain Joe Sakic said there was no chance Forsberg would play tomorrow. Forsberg has been out since having his spleen removed in emergency surgery May 7.
Here are two glimmers of hope for the Avalanche: Their 6-3 road record is better than the Devils' 7-5 home record in this season's playoffs, and New Jersey failed to wrap up the title at home in Game 5 last year, losing 1-0 to Dallas in triple overtime.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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